Yale Bulletin and Calendar

March 2, 2001Volume 29, Number 21Two-Week Issue















Dr. Theodore Lidz, a noted
specialist on schizophrenia, dies

There will be a memorial service on Saturday, March 17, for Dr. Theodore Lidz, 90, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, who died on Feb. 16 after a brief illness.

The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. in Dwight Chapel, 67 High St. A reception will follow.

Dr. Lidz was best known for his many articles and books on the causes of schizophrenia and on psychotherapy with schizophrenic patients. His textbook "The Person" has been widely used in courses on personality development at schools of medicine, nursing and social work, and in graduate programs in psychology.

Dr. Lidz's perspective in psychiatry emphasized continuities between normal development and psychopathology. In his efforts to understand patients, he focused on familial, community and cultural factors that affect the development of personality as well as the individual's life history. Often, he held, mental illness is induced by early experience in profoundly troubled families.

Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, Dr. Lidz attended Columbia College and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After two years of medical internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he became an assistant in neurology at National Hospital, Queen's Square in London. He took his residency in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. It was while studying there with Adolf Meyer that Dr. Lidz learned to examine personal history and experience as sources of psychotic as well as neurotic disorders.

During his residency, Dr. Lidz met Dr. Ruth Maria Wilmanns, a German-born psychiatrist who had fled the Nazi regime in 1934 and arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1937. They were married in 1939, and they shared their professional interests in psychiatry as well as a love of art until her death in 1995.

In January of 1942, Dr. Lidz enlisted in the Army and served in New Zealand, Fiji and Burma. In Fiji, as the hospital's one psychiatrist, he had several hundred psychiatric casualties from Guadalcanal in his personal care.

Returning to Johns Hopkins in 1946, he became chief of the psychiatric section of the Department of Medicine and initiated research on psychosomatic conditions. At the same time, he followed Ruth Lidz into psychoanalytic training in the Washington-Baltimore Institute, where they studied with Harry Stack Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. With Ruth Lidz, he conducted a study of psychiatric troubles among parents of patients hospitalized for schizophrenia. The resulting article documented a high rate of psychiatric disturbance, although not of schizophrenia itself, among the parents. The paper provided the starting point for Lidz's later studies.

In 1951, Dr. Lidz moved to Yale as professor and chief of clinical services in psychiatry and to build the Department of Psychiatry. With Dr. Stephen Fleck and other collaborators, Dr. Lidz launched a long-term study comparing 17 schizophrenic patients and their families with 17 non-schizophrenic hospitalized patients and their families. By the late 1950s, the research group published the first of many articles on parental relationships associated with the emergence of schizophrenia in young adults.

"In Schizophrenia and the Family" (1965), Drs. Lidz, Fleck and Alice Cornelison compiled findings of what remains perhaps the most detailed clinical study of a series of schizophrenic patients and their families.

As psychiatric research on the causes of schizophrenia turned to patterns of genetic inheritance and functions of neurotransmitters, Dr. Lidz argued that family approaches remained more helpful to treatment and fought the classification of schizophrenia as an incurable, lifelong condition. Without romanticizing the disorder, he studied the creativity of many artists, religious leaders and even scientists who were schizophrenic for periods in their lives. While acknowledging that contemporary medications often alleviate some symptoms of schizophrenia, he emphasized the broader successes that he and others had achieved with psychotherapy. He viewed the common failure to offer long-term psychotherapy as a betrayal of schizophrenic patients.

A 1970 trip with Ruth Lidz to Fiji, the battlefields of Guadalcanal and New Guinea became a chance to see patients from radically different cultural backgrounds as well as to collect indigenous sculpture. Publications followed on the significance of paranoia when supported by beliefs in black magic and on personality development in the context of New Guinea culture. Some years later, the Lidzes donated their prized collection of New Guinea artifacts to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale.

Although formally retired in 1978, Dr. Lidz treated patients, lectured and published into the mid-1990s. In his last years, he expressed regret that he could not write one more book to show that biology-based lines of research and training in current psychiatry are, as he said, "barking up the wrong tree."

Dr. Lidz leaves three sons: Victor, of Villanova, Pennsylvania; Charles, of Hebron, Maine; and Jerry, of Eugene, Oregon; eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. The family asks that memorial gifts be made to the Alzheimer's Association for services in support of family caregivers or to the Yale University Art Gallery for its new acquisitions fund.


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